House Members Showing Up for Votes - How important?


Well-known member
At first glance I would say yes it's very important, it's your job it's what you are suppose to do. After reading the reasons given for why representatives from the Bay Area have missed so many I tend to support their justification, such as the distance from home to D.C. Would they miss so many votes if they were in a more competitive district? Maybe but I don't know that for sure. What do others think?

Bay Area House members frequently miss votes

Many Bay Area lawmakers often skip casting ballots

When Congress begins voting on whether to take military action in Syria, every member of the House and Senate is expected to be present to cast a ballot.

But when the spotlight isn't quite so bright, the Bay Area's all-Democratic House delegation isn't always that diligent about casting votes.

Some members have not voted on dozens of bills each year, according to documentation provided by two websites that track congressional votes, and Project Vote Smart.

Since the start of 2013, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, neither of whom have faced tough challenges in their heavily Democratic districts, have led the delegation in missed votes.

Miller, the dean of the California delegation who has been in office since 1975, has missed 64 votes this year, including two this week - with a career average of missing 7.5 percent of votes, according to

Speier has missed 51 votes so far this year and has an average of missing 12 percent of all votes during her tenure in the House - by far the highest among the Bay Area representatives.

Just ahead of Speier in 2013 is Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, a seven-term congressman who faces a lively challenge in his South Bay district from Democratic former Obama trade representative Ro Khanna.

Honda missed 53 votes this year, with a career average of 4.8 percent missed votes, according to

By contrast, current members of the House of Representatives have a career average of 2.2 percent missed votes, govtrack says.

Why show up?

UC Berkeley political science Professor Eric Schickler, who has authored several books on Congress, said political realities may be affecting the votes of California Democrats in the House.

Among them: Republican members hold a majority of 233 of 435 House seats, compared with 200 for Democrats, with two seats vacant.

"For Democrats in the House right now, there's a sense that the vast majority of important roll-call votes are not going to be pivotal - and they're probably getting less pressure from leaders to be there," Schickler said.

"For a lot of day-to-day stuff going on, there's a sense of 'Why should I go to this?' " he said. "They know they will lose the vote and they feel they can spend time more productively in their districts."

Long trips

Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, said California House members also are often disadvantaged by a five- to six-hour cross-country trek to get home to be with their families and to spend time with constituents, he said.

"The distance does make it hard for them to get back" to Washington early Monday, Brady said. "The Democrats weren't that important and often the votes were highly symbolic: How many times can you continue to vote on (defunding) Obamacare?"

Members of Congress were asked to vote on 453 measures from January through August - many of them minor and procedural.

Why they weren't there

Among the votes Miller missed were the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act, the 2013 Energy Consumers Relief Act and the Stop Government Abuse Act.

In the second quarter of 2013, Miller ranked in the 95th percentile of House members for missed votes.

Peter Whippy, Miller's press secretary and legislative assistant, said the congressman "missed a number of votes earlier this year due to a series of medical appointments related to his eyes," including cataract surgery.

In the early part of this quarter, Miller was forced to miss votes to attend to a close friend who was dying, Whippy added.

Speier's missed votes included the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act and legislation that required all oil and refined fuels transported through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to be used only in the United States.

Speier called The Chronicle to answer questions, saying her numbers "aren't really demonstrative" of her commitment to the office, as "you miss one day, and there might be 12 votes."

That's life

But sometimes, she added, "life happens."

For example, she said, "Our home got flooded earlier this year and I was dealing with that," as well as attending to a daughter who was graduating from high school.

In the last two years, she said, she faced the pressures of dealing with two terminally ill parents and a mother-in-law who became ill and died.

Despite those problems, she said, she was in close touch with her staff and the legislation at hand during those times.

Honda's spokesman Anthony Kusich said in a statement that the congressman "missed a handful of votes this summer mostly over a two-day period when he was working in district and when his mother passed away."

"One of these votes was a version of the Farm Bill that cut billions in aid to needy families, which congressman Honda strongly opposed," Kusich acknowledged. "He was able to vote against final passage of the bill when it came up several weeks later. ''

Honda also missed voting on $2.6 billion in funding for a supplemental food stamp program in June - the same month he announced his intention to run for re-election in 2014.

In June, Honda returned home for campaign events - attending the Netroots Nation 2013 conference in San Jose and starring at a karaoke fundraiser.

All together, nine of the Bay Area's 12 House members surpass the career average for missed votes of current House members.

Pelosi's record

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, whose fundraising and leadership duties take her around the nation, has missed 33 votes this year - with a career average of missed votes at 5.3 percent.

The Bay Area Democrat with the best voting record this year is freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell of Dublin, who to date has failed to cast just one vote.

That happened, Swalwell said, on his first day in the House, when he was being introduced to the voting system and missed the first procedural vote.